UW Health sees increase in pediatric suicide-related emergency visits

More and more children contemplate suicide
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 5:40 PM CST
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Wis. (WBAY) - UW Heath is reporting a significant increase in the number of pediatric suicide-related emergency department visits.

Over the past decade, kids going to UW Health’s Pediatric Emergency Department for psychiatric care has nearly tripled, increasing from 15 to 40 kids on average per month. The greatest increase for visits is due to suicidal ideation, especially in kids 14 and younger.

“We’re really seeing now that younger teens are suffering even more,” said Shanda Wells, a pediatric behavioral health specialist and clinical psychologist at UW-Health.

Wells said there isn’t enough data to tell us why children younger than 14 have had the highest increase in psychiatric visits over the last four years, but she said there are societal and risk factors, such as poverty, sexual orientation, and racism. Wells said the pandemic only made the matters worse, especially for those experiencing hopelessness and isolation.

“I think kind of a mix, mash up all of those stressors have really hit that age population hard,” said Wells.

So what can parents do? Wells said it starts with an open and non-judgmental conversation.

“Being welcomed to hearing what they have to say even if it’s hard, investigating questions with curiosity and not judgment, and taking anything that your child says seriously, we know that often children who try to hurt themselves one way or another have expressed this to someone,” said Wells. ‘Having thoughts of hurting yourself are not uncommon. I think we, as a society, tend to kind of worry about that and it feels kind of icky to us. But in reality, many of us at some point or another will think about the concept of dying. It’s when we start to plan those things or have an intention of carrying something out that that becomes serious.”

Wells said talk to your child’s doctor or call the national 988 hotline for resources. Here’s the link: https://988lifeline.org/

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If it is an emergency, call 911 or seek help immediately at a hospital.

Wells recognizes the lack of financial support, in general, for emergency services for mental health, especially for teenagers and kids. There’s also a lack of providers to assist with the increasing demand for immediate services.

“Which is really too bad because we know that the quicker you intervene and the younger you intervene with someone with mental health problems, the more likely they are to have success in that treatment,” said Wells.

Wells hopes the government will step in and acknowledge the issue by sending more funds their way. But no matter what, psychologists like Wells, are there to help.

“That’s the message I want to send your folks. I know it feels really hopeless at times, but I’ve seen so many kids get better. Like there is hope. If we can get kids the care they need, there’s a lot of hope,” said Wells.

U.W. Health reports an alarming increase in acts of self-harm and suicidal thoughts among children in Wisconsin